Titans of GeoPol: George Kennan

Kennan Frontpiece

If you happen to have been paying attention to the exciting world of Republican foreign policy during the “interesting times” in which the Grand Old Party finds itself, you will no doubt have already heard about the bold, new strategy that Donald Trump announced, vis-à-vis the US commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Alarm bells are ringing from D.C. to Vilnius over Mr. Trump’s apparent reluctance to stand by the founding principle of US foreign policy for the past 70 years or so. Given the current aggressive position that Russia is increasingly taking in regards to neighboring states, it is not all that surprising that a cold sweat is breaking out on the forehead of foreign ministries the length and breadth of the Western world. In the bizzaro realm of international relations we find ourselves in NATO is already having a rough time of it, what with the fallout of Brexit on the one hand, and a spectacularly unsuccessful (and yet oh so convenientcoup d’état in Turkey on the other – in other words, it would appear to be an odd time to start shaking the foundations of the international status quo.

Still, for our purposes it does afford me an excellent introduction to the second in my 435 part series “Better know a Titan of Geopol” – with what some might argue as the original architect of the Cold War geopolitical era, George Kennan – the fightin’ Historian!


Kennan was an interesting fellow, and is chiefly remembered for jump-starting US paranoia over Soviet expansionism in the wake of the Second World War. An historian by training, Kennan was the Deputy Chief for the US Mission in Moscow when he penned his most important contribution to GeoPolitics – the “Long Telegram” – in which he lays out his opinions of Soviet policy towards the rest of the world, and boy, does he lay them out!

Containment BearThe telegram itself is 8000 words long (for which he has the good graces to apologize right at the start) and goes through a variety of phases. Probably the most surprising of these for those of us who have read about the Long Telegram as part of our studies, but never actually got around to reading it ourselves *ahem* is that it starts out with an extensive and delightfully frank quote from Stalin! Kennan then goes on to outline the devious and pernicious ways in which the Red Menace intends to metastasize across the globe. Thankfully, Kennan also knows the appropriate response to the creeping threat of Communism, and it is good old-fashioned US exceptionalism! For a piece of geopolitical hyperbole, the Long Telegram actually ends on something of a positive note, with the main thrust suggesting that if only the poor, benighted souls currently lost under the tyrannical sway of collectivism can be shown the light, then they will see the error of their (imposed) ways. Huzzah!

The entire piece is framed in almost apocalyptical terms, reminiscent of Bernard of Cold War - Statements and Suspicions - CartoonClairvoux at Vezely, and clearly served as impetuous for what eventually became US “Containment Policy” and the Truman Doctrine. I think a fair argument can be made that NATO itself is descended from the ripples cast into the stream by this masterful piece of geopolitical imagery – it truly is a masterpiece of world framing, such as only old-school geopolitics can achieve! Ironically enough, with a couple of years Kennan almost completely renounced this vision of the US-Soviet relations, but by that point the deed was done, and we all now live (to a certain extent) in a world shaped by this imaginary. I wonder if either Mr. Trump or Mr. Putin have ever considered that fact?

Ah well! – as Lady MacBeth put it:

“Things without all remedy

Should be without regard:

what’s done, is done.”

This piece clocks in at about 35 minutes. Enjoy!

ADDENDUM: An astute listener has informed me that, yes indeed, I misquoted the date of the telegram in the first 20 seconds of the recording!  I apologize for the oversight, and have only this to say in my defense…er, …sorry? I’m probably not going to re-record the entire thing, so just keep thinking “1946” as you listen, and you should be good!

ADDENDUM II: There, I changed it! We must strive for exactness in all things, eh?

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